By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Some 40 former Sky Bahamas employees will appear before the Industrial Tribunal today claiming that the former airline has “totally abandoned” them and the collective $740,000 it owes.
A spokesman for the staff, who include 13 managers, last night said the dispute arbitration hearing was taking place after all efforts to reach out to Captain Randy Butler, the airline’s chief executive, to resolve the allegedly outstanding severance pay, back pay and vacation entitlement had proven futile.
They said that while contact was made with Captain Butler last September through the Labour Board, the former Sky Bahamas chief allegedly described himself as an employee, said he “had nothing to give” and hung up the phone on several staff who were in on the call.
“We tried to make contact through the Labour Board but there’s been nothing. He’s totally ignored the employees,” the spokesperson said. “I personally have not had any contact with him. An attempt was made last September through the Labour Board, and when the senior officer, Mr Graham, had him on the phone and some of the senior employees were there trying to talk to him, he hung up the phone.”
Captain Butler could not be reached by Tribune Business yesterday for comment despite phone calls and messages being sent. However, the employees’ collective move represents another potential headache after companies controlled by Sky Bahamas’ main financier, Fred Kaiser, last week filed legal action claiming that Captain Butler and the airline had “conspired” to defraud him via near-$27m in alleged “bogus loans”.
The employee spokesperson said the former Sky Bahamas staff were concerned that Mr Kaiser’s claim might impact their ability to recover what they are owed, but added that that had subsequently been reassured that “based on how the law provides protection for payroll when a company goes belly up they should not be impacted”.
“They don’t know what to do,” the spokesperson added of the staff. “Just think about this. Some of them live in Abaco, some of them live in Freeport, and you know how Dorian impacted them. That’s their reality. The employer didn’t reach out to them, nothing.
“It’s been rough. Cat Island and Grand Bahama employees still haven’t been able to find employment. They have nothing. One of them for sure is owed somewhere around $35,000. Some of the managers were not allowed to take vacation, so a lot of money is owed to them in accrued vacation. These are senior managers that supported them for years.”
“We were totally abandoned by the company,” said one former staff member in a statement. “We have all suffered a very difficult time during the pandemic, many are still struggling with unemployment while Sky Bahamas continues to refuse to pay us what they owe.
“Several of the employees who were stationed in Abaco and Grand Bahama lost everything in Hurricane Dorian. Seven of them lost their homes or were displaced and are still struggling to find food and shelter for their children.”
Sky Bahamas was forced to cease flying last year after the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority refused to renew the air operator certificate that was required to carry fee-paying passengers.
The staff are alleging that although Captain Butler informed them in an August 6, 2019, e-mail that the airline ceased operations on July 8, payroll actually started being late or not paid at all as far back as May last year. Nevertheless, the employees continued to report to work up to August 16 without pay, when they arrived at work to find the locks changed and an eviction notice on the door.
“Many young adults with children in school were among the staff,” the staff spokesperson said. “Two had just had babies. This could literally not have come at a worse time as we were going through the expense of trying to get our children ready for school.”
Former Sky Bahamas staff are alleging that when they inquired about their employment status last June, they were told to march downtown and put pressure on the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD), which eventually evicted the airline from its offices for outstanding fees. When asked about their salary, they were told to consult the National Insurance Board (NIB).